So much of the advice we are given is well meaning but is frankly hollow and trite…
Designed to minimise our emotional pain as if it’s invalid emotion, it’s not. This attempt to repress our emotions will actually increase the overall pain experienced and extend the recovery period, sometimes indefinitely.
Get over it.
Look on the bright side.
There are plenty more fish in the sea.
These classic statements do not help. And then there’s the other end of the scale: the friend that tells you to go out, get wasted, make all the mistakes you want because, hey, you’ve been through a lot. You’re single now. You get a free pass to be as self-destructive as you want, because look at what you’ve just been through.
Or the friend that loves to come over for a good bitch about your ex. The friend that just ‘drops in’ information about some shitty thing they did, without you asking. The friend that acts like they’re on your side, but clearly revels in the drama – and wants you to go on feeling this angry, miserable and victimized, to squeeze as much entertainment out of the situation as they can.
They sound different, but these approaches all have the same effect. None of them encourage you to focus on how to recover. You aren’t looking for ways to work through the feelings. You’re simply told whether or not they should be allowed to exist in the first place – and then whether it’s better to mask them by pretending they aren’t there, to distract yourself from them as much as possible, or to keep feeding them because you’re within your rights to do so.
The most damaging thing is that all these forms of advice make you feel powerless.
When you come through an emotional trauma like divorce, you need to give yourself permission to cry and scream and just – feel. But you also need to know that you are the keeper of these emotions. You don’t have to let them control you and your future.
Why do I feel so lost?
The pain of divorce isn’t just sadness that you fell out of love, that someone you trusted betrayed you, or whatever the cause of the breakup was. You aren’t just grieving for your relationship, you’re grieving for an entire life that you had, with all the familiar structures, habits and assumptions that made you feel safe.
You may have lost your home. You may have lost friends. You may have had to dramatically change your daily routine to facilitate extra childcare or overtime to do to make ends meet. At the same time, your default partner for everything from going to the cinema to your plus one at weddings has disappeared. The shock of the change can be bewildering and traumatic.
It’s not enough to try and get by with these old pieces of your life missing: you have to actively make a plan to restructure your life (and your mindset) completely to deal with this new reality.
What happens if I don’t?
You know the old saying that time heals all wounds? Well, It’s nonsense.
Time does not heal all wounds. Without proper care and intervention, physical wounds fester, or scar horribly, leaving permanent damage.
… Emotional wounds are exactly the same.
If you don’t take proactive steps to plan and organize your life post-divorce, you will stay stuck in the same state you were in when the trauma hit. You will continue to feel lost and hurt, and you will make no progress either on repairing the emotional damage or addressing any underlying problems and dysfunctions that fuelled the breakdown of the relationship in the first place.
That means you’re dooming yourself to keep repeating the same destructive mistakes.
Why structure is good
Enough with the doom and gloom: let’s look at the positives.
There are “best practices” for everything in life, and that includes divorce. Having a clear idea of what to do and how to behave in order to protect yourself and your kids from further emotional harm, and to create the conditions for healing, is genuinely empowering. You can take charge of your situation and your feelings, and start to rebuild.
There are 10 essential ways to make sure you’re on your best behaviour after a divorce:
Handle friends and family with good grace
Your mum’s anxious, tone-deaf advice might be about as much use as a chocolate teapot, but try not to get annoyed or frustrated. Recognise that most people in your life genuinely want to help or support you – they just don’t know how. Be thankful to them for caring enough to try, even if you’re secretly disregarding everything they say… and if you get the feeling that some people are stirring things up deliberately, politely refuse to engage.
Minimise contact with your ex
You might not be able to cut them off completely – especially if you have kids – but you do need to create distance. For as long as they’re hanging around, part of you will try to cling on to the role you played in each other’s lives before your divorce, and you won’t truly start restructuring your life without them.
Perhaps you can be friends later, but not now… and don’t kid yourself that you can’t keep sleeping together and walk away unscathed.
If you can, take a complete break for a few weeks right after the split, and then continue to keep contact to a polite minimum.
Keep your kids in the loop – but out of the fights
Your children are savvier than you think. They know you’re breaking up, they know their lives are changing, so don’t lie to them or give them false hope that things could go back to how they were before. Focus on showing them how much you love them and making it clear this is between you and your ex.
At the same time, never, ever drag them into your feuds. Try not to talk about your ex in negative terms in front of them, and don’t give in to any urge to use their feelings (or custody) as a weapon against your ex. If you do, you will sour their relationship with one or both of you, and make the experience even more traumatic for them in the process.
Take a step back from work (and then dive back in)
You need time to catch your breath, and stepping up your workload to distract yourself will only delay the start of your healing process. If you can, take some holiday, or at least postpone / manage certain projects to the ease the burden. When you’ve figured out your new structure you can jump back in and seize your career with both hands, but you need the next few weeks to focus on healing.
Don’t avoid your emotions
Your pain is going anywhere because you ignore it and numbing yourself just postpones the inevitable: at some point, you will have to deal with these emotions and start to focus on getting better. But, while you can’t – and shouldn’t – banish them completely, there are strategies you can use that will help you to listen to these feelings, negotiate with them, and lessen their hold over your behaviour and your state of mind.
Don’t look for someone to rescue you
Rebound relationships are almost always a disaster. The impulse to let someone else jump in and save you from your shitty situation, or make you feel better about your damaged confidence, is understandable, but all you’re doing is dragging your baggage into a new situation and putting tremendous pressure on the other person to make it work. Focus on getting yourself in a good place before bringing someone new into the mix.
Take care of yourself
It sounds minor, but you must look after yourself physically, as well as emotionally, after a trauma. That means trying to eat nourishing food, getting some sleep, avoiding too much caffeine or sugar, and not relying on alcohol, cigarettes or other drugs to get you through. These things wreak havoc on your mood and energy levels and will make you feel even more out of control.
Beware “false healing”
Teaching yourself to bear the pain is not the same as getting better. If you squash all that trauma down deep inside you, you will get sick. You will be miserable. You will lash out. You will repeat the same mistakes. The goal is to find functional, productive ways to deal with your problems and your relationships that make you happier, not to get through the day without crying.
When you’re hurting or you’ve been wronged, it’s natural to want to rally people to your side. The trouble is, like that friend that loves the drama and wants you to keep on serving it up, being emotionally rewarded for victimhood can get addictive.
Reach out for whatever help you need, but if part of you is wallowing in this because it gives you a free pass to do, or demand, whatever you want, or you’re secretly enjoying the sense of righteous anger… admit that to yourself. You’ll need that self-awareness when you come to structuring a plan to heal.
Don’t sink into a stupor and wait for it to pass. It won’t. You have to decide to start healing. You have to be willing to take those steps. You have to be prepared to make a plan.
What do I do now?
Now it’s time to regain control of your life. Start with the practical things: how are you going to organise your finances? Your workload? Your social life? Childcare? Build new structures that work for your independent life.
Next, ask yourself: what sets me off? What factors send me into a downward spiral? When do my emotions start spinning out of control? When do I feel powerless or vulnerable?
As you identify the stuff that really scares you, you can start to plan out a daily routine that strips out some of the ways you torture yourself – the self-destructive behaviours, obsessions and thought processes that impact on your ability to heal.
Restructuring your life after a divorce is a BIG task. If you feel you’d benefit from expert guidance, click to learn more about the Naked Divorce 21 Day Programme, and how it can help you put all this advice into action to get over your divorce in just 3 weeks.